Teaching mindfulness to students in a sustainable and impactful way includes instruction in some basic brain science along with incrementally less structured meditation activities. Do you want your students to reap the self-regulation and focus enhancing benefits of mindfulness? Even more important, do you want to help your trauma-affected students rewire their brains for academic success? Keep reading to learn an incremental approach to teaching mindfulness to your students. Disclaimer: always give students the option to opt out and make sure they know they do not have to close their eyes if they don't want to. If they don't, guide them to focus on one point in front of them with lowered eyelids.
Getting your students to take mindfulness seriously starts with teaching them why it works. I have a few other blog posts and videos on how mindfulness actually works. You can head over to those and learn more. Or, you can do a quick Google search to read just how it is that mindfulness can boost learning readiness and self-regulation.
How to teach the link between mindfulness and achievement:
Have students create models of the brain. Teach them how the brain develops from the bottom up and what parts of the brain control heart rate and breathing. Discuss how we can build up the focusing parts of the brain to better control our body’s physical response and, over time, gain more self-control. Be creative and incorporate mindfulness activities into your instruction on mindfulness. A fun idea for using mindfulness to show students how it works is to get them wound up, maybe playing a game that involves movement. Get their hearts going faster and their breathing rates up. Have them try to do a difficult puzzle or do something academic. Then, have them all sit in a comfortable place, dim the lights, and do an easy and highly structured guided meditation (check the list below). They can try the challenging cognitive activity again after the meditation.
Start STructured and Slowly Increase Challenge
Once you teach students what it is and why it works, it’s imperative to make mindfulness a part of your daily classroom routine. It may work best as a warm up at the beginning of class or, if you have a homeroom, a study hall, or if you teach elementary, it could be in one of the less structured times of day. I know we’re so strapped for time but the benefits of incorporating mindfulness, especially for survivors of trauma, greatly outweighs the small chunk of time it will take out of your instructional day.
Next, I like to start with the easiest and most engaging types of mindfulness activities and keep each day’s mindfulness activity a bit different from the day before. That second part is so that I can keep their interest. Below, find a sequential and incrementally less structured list of mindfulness activities to slowly build stamina and buy-in.
There are so many ways to incorporate mindfulness into your classroom. Start by making sure students know what it is and why it works. Then, be sure to make it a consistent part of your school day. Without that piece, it won’t have the long-term impacts on attention and achievement. Take your pick from the list above but remember that the most highly structured activities will feel easier for your students. Only when they really get the hang of bringing their attention back to the present focus will they be successful with less guided activities. Also, it is really important for you to have your own mindfulness practice for this to work.
Check out this supplementary video!
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.